EB Interviews Developer Warren Spector

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This week, we had a chance to sit down with Warren Spector, the man behind Deus Ex and the amazing Epic Mickey series. We bombarded him with questions, which were asked by our fans on Facebook and Twitter. His responses were enlightening, and gave us a real insight into the way developers feel about working on a project and the games they have to leave behind.

Paint and Thinner were a very interesting Game Mechanic for the Original Epic Mickey. During development were there any other mechanics being thought of that never made it to the final product? Will we see those in this Epic Mickey or future ones? – (Kim Viney)

Yeah I’m kind of a kitchen sink designer.. that’s what they call me back at the office, so I always throw in a lot of stuff. And then I -almost like a sculptor- kind of carve out and chip away the parts that don’t fit as you figure out what your game is. So yeah there were all sorts of things I wanted to do, that I’m not gonna talk about because I still wanna do them! (laughs) I always knew we were gonna come back and do a second player and have Oswald with his unique ability set. We did have a secondary mechanic that I think not many people really used very much, a sketch system- there’s a tv that has three or four different uses, there’s a watch sketch that slows down time. We introduce a new one in this game which is the fairy sketch which turns off gravity on individual things – so you can make any character float.. and I recommend doing it by the way there are some pretty funny animations that happen when they float.

There’s one big game mechanic that I conceived early in the development of the first game that didn’t make it into the first or second game, but its gonna go in the third if we’re lucky enough to do one. I will say this –we do have- let’s just say several game systems that we haven’t even started talking about in this game. So there’s plenty of gameplay that we’ll be able to talk about within the next few months. How’s that for a long ass answer? (laughs)

The creation of a franchise as deep as Deus Ex must be so engrossing and a labour of love. Do you find it hard to leave that world to work on other projects, and do you feel an affinity towards the characters that makes it painful to move on? – (Julie Rose Marshall)
Yeah that’s a great question actually. All of my games are like my babies you know, and I am so proud of the teams that I’ve worked with.... Yeah and I love the Dentons, you know, I love JC, I love the Deus Ex universe... and it was very hard walking away from that. I had several more stories that I wanted to tell in that world- to the point where actually when I left Ion Storm to become an independent developer I actually created a concept called “necessary evil” which was kind of the 21st Century equivalent of Deus Ex with like the serial numbers filed off, (laughs)....yeah I would love to go back and tell some more stories for sure.

The interesting thing actually- the other way to look at this is, when I signed on with Disney I had been working with the film director John Wu for about a year on a project called Ninja Gold – we were gonna do a movie and a game together and created this world and these characters and this story together – and um... everybody is going to lose all respect for me when I say this but I was actually, I had my hand poised over a contract to start working for Disney... and I was crying. I was so thrilled to work for Disney but I had just spent a year of my life you know living with Kat Sato, modern day ninja... I mean it sounds silly but, yeah, they really are like your children and leaving them behind is very hard... I mean I still wanna make that game! Yeah.. what is Kat Sato up to?

What was your first experience with video games? – (Josh Deveson)

Um, it was Pong! (laughs) I’m an old guy... I played Pong in a bar! I was a teenager, but anyway (laughs). I mean I grew up with video games... I remember a time when they didn’t exist, but the ones that really had an impact on me were Star Raiders on the Atari 800, you know it was amazing. That was me sitting in the cockpit of the Starfighter being Luke Skywalker fighting the Empire you know, it was just magical. I remember playing Ultima 4 and it was the first game where Richard Garriott created the idea of virtues and avatars and created a game that was actually about something and not just about kill the monster, grab the treasure, you know that sort of stuff. It was really about something serious. So I knew that games could be about something more, those were really big life changing moments.

What about Epic Mickey 2 excites you the most and you can’t wait for gamers to experience? – (Caleb Gaulton)
You know it’s – it’s Oswald. Just plain and simple. I just love that little guy. I just hear his voice in my head and it’s like he’s real. It’s like, we talk about him all the time, like you know, “we’re gonna do right by Oswald – he deserves better. He was forgotten in 1928- that’s so unfair! We’re gonna get him his star on the walk of fame in Hollywood.” And the fact that we reintroduced him to the world and uh you know, there are plush toys that come out about it him and they sell out instantly, and people love Oswald now! And that’s like okay, check that one off... now you’re gonna get to play him! And someday I wanna do games that are just about Oswald... I’m really psyched that people are gonna get to play as him, that’s number one.

Being such a creative person, how do you know when an idea is ready to become something bigger? – (Ben Foley)

Uhhh... wow, I’m so creative I can’t even think of an answer to this! (laughs) No look, I mean every person who tells stories in whatever medium or creates any kind of art I guess has a process that they go through. I have a process I go through that is unique, everybody has their own, it’s very personal... I mean even my team doesn’t know I go through it – but for every game I work on I have a series of seven questions that I ask myself, and if I can’t answer those seven questions adequately I don’t do the game. One of them is “what’s the one thing in this game that no one in the world has ever seen before or done” There has to be one thing that no one has ever seen or done before, or why bother doing it. I mean other people can execute well against well understood problems, but I wanna do the stuff where I can fail gloriously, and you know, figure out something new.

I mean there’s a whole list of questions. I also sit down and say “can I come up with three stories that I could tell in this world with these characters” and if I can’t think of them then I don’t do the game. I also like to think of the gameplay animation that I’m gonna introduce into these three stories and if I can’t do that, then I’m not willing to spend ten years of my life with those characters from that world. I mean if you really want to know all seven questions you can go and check out my blog which I haven’t updated in two years (laughs). My first couple of blog posts were about my process..if people really wanna know they can go look at it. I feel weird though because it’s very private. I have a template – I call it a WHY document, and it has a bunch of blanks in it and I have to fill that out – it’s a pretty structured process, I’m a pretty OCD sort of guy! (laughs) Other people work differently to me but I go through that on every project, I did it for Deus Ex and I did it for Epic Mickey, and I’ll do it for everything I do in the future.